Date of Award

Spring 6-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

Forensic Psychology

Language

English

First Advisor

Casey LaDuke

Second Reader

Preeti Chauhan

Third Advisor

Emily Haney-Caron

Abstract

The number of older adults in the United States is rising, as is the incidence of dementia. Older adults are coming into contact with the criminal justice system at greater rates than previously encountered. As such, individuals with dementia are likely appearing in courts at an unprecedented rate. While many civil competencies commonly related to older adults are well researched, competency in the criminal legal system has not received the same level of recognition in this population. This is particularly concerning given the growing awareness of the relevance of dementia in some criminal competencies (e.g., Madison v. Alabama, 2019). Of particular importance is understanding competency to stand trial evaluations in individuals with dementia, given the regularity and seriousness of this psycholegal question in the United States legal system. This study examines how dementia has been related to determinations of competency to stand trial in United States courts from 2002 through 2019. The results suggest that a diagnosis of dementia is particularly salient when related to findings of incompetency. However, it appears that these individuals pose a significant challenge to experts in terms of determining accurate diagnosis, and evaluating how neurocognitive impairments might affect their functional abilities related to competency to stand trial. In these populations, the evaluation of performance validity and the question of appropriate diagnosis are particularly relevant. The results of this study have clear implications for researchers, clinicians, legal professionals, and policymakers working with older adults involved in the United States criminal justice system.

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